Nigeria is ranked 79 out of 86 in the 2012 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

The country was ranked 86 out of 102 in the 2009 Social Institutions and Gender Index.

Nigeria’s Human Development Index score for 2011 is 0.459, placing it in 156th place (out of a total of 187 countries). The country is not ranked in the most recent Gender Inequality Index (for 2011). Nigeria is ranked 120th in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index (out of 135 countries), with a score of 0.6011.

Discriminatory Family Code: 

Three forms of marriage are recognised in the country: monogamous marriage registered under the civil marriage law, marriages performed under customary law, and marriages performed under Islamic law. The Child Rights Act of 2003 amended the Constitution to set the minimum age of marriage at 18 years of age, but only 16 of Nigeria’s 36 states have adopted the Act.[15] As a result, state laws on the minimum age of marry vary: in southern Nigeria, the minimum legal age for marriage is between 18 and 21 years of age, depending on the region; in the north it ranges from 12 to 15 years.[16]  The 2003 Demographic and Health Survey estimated that 33.2 percent of girls between 15 and 19 years of age were married, separated, divorced or widowed.[17]  Additionally, the DHS found that nearly 22 percent of married Nigeria women were betrothed by age 15, a figure that rises to 46 percent by age 18.[18] As of 2008, a process of reviewing existing family laws was being undertaken by the Nigerian Law Reform Commission, with a view to eventually proposing a new, comprehensive family law.[19]

Polygamy is prohibited in civil marriages, but authorised under customary and Islamic law.[20]  The 2008 DHS found that 33 percent of married women were in polygamous unions.[21]

In civil marriages, parental authority is shared by the mother and father, but in two-thirds of Nigerian households, husbands alone make decisions about the health and education of their children.[22]  According to the 2008 DHS, almost 56 percent of women report that their husband made decisions concerning their wives’ health care.[23] Women living in states where Sharia law has been adopted may have decreased rights to divorce; however, the US Department of State’s 2010 human rights report states that access to Sharia courts actually benefitted women in some cases, because they were able to provide rulings in divorce and child custody and maintenance cases much faster and more cheaply than civil courts.[24]

In civil marriage where deceased men have left a will, widows are guaranteed the right to inherit at least one-third of the couple’s property. However in cases where the husband has left no will, customary law dictates inheritance rights.[25] Daughters’ inheritance rights under customary law vary considerably across the country, but in no region does customary law grant women equal inheritance rights with men.[26]  The US State Department reports that in some cases, widows become destitute when their husband’s relatives evict them from the marital home, and seize ownership of other property and assets.[27]  The Chronic Poverty Research Centre reports that in Nigeria 27.87 percent of widows inherited majority of assets in 2007.[28]  It should be noted that some states have enacted laws protecting the rights of widows, for example the Prohibition of Infringement of a Widower's and Widow's Fundamental Human Rights Law, No.3 was enforced in 2001 in Enugu state.[29]

[15] Child Rights Act of 2003, promulgated September 2003 in CEDAW 2006, p. 71; Women’s Aid Collective (hereafter WAC) (2008) p. 12; The Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition (hereafter NGO Coalition) (2008) pp. 7, 11 [16] CEDAW (2003) p. 55; CEDAW (2006) pp. 20, 61 [17] Demographic and Health Survey (2003) [18] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 6.3 [19] CEDAW (2008) p.24 [20] CEDAW (2003) p. 55 [21] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 6.2 [22] WAC 2008, pp. 63-64[23] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 15.4.1 [24] US Department of State (2011)[25] NGO Coalition (2008) p. 61; CEDAW (2003) pp. 54-55 [26] See CEDAW (2006) [27] US Department of State (2011) [28] Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) p.20 [29] JICA (2011)

Restricted Physical Integrity: 

Rape is punishable by life imprisonment in Nigeria, but there are no sanctions in the Penal Code against spousal rape.[30]  Societal pressure to keep silent, victim-blaming, and stigma surrounding sexual violence mean that few women report sexual assaults.[31]

A few Nigerian states have a law in place to address domestic violence, for example the Domestic Violence Law of Lagos State (2007), Gender Based Violation Law of Ekiti State (2011)..  However, the country’s Penal Code grants husbands permission to beat their wives, provided the violence does not result in serious injury.[32]  Police are usually reluctant to intervene in domestic violence cases, unless the woman has sustained serious injury. Women’s rights organisations are active in providing support services to victims of domestic violence and other forms of violence against women, as well as raising awareness, and pushing for legislation to address domestic violence to be introduced.[33] 

There is no law specifically addressing sexual harassment in Nigeria.[34] 

According to the 2008 DHS, over 30.5 percent of ever-married women have experienced some form of physical, sexual, or emotional violence at some point.[35]

The percentage is higher in urban areas (30.2%) than in rural area (26.3%) and higher in the South South region (52.1%) than in the North West region (13.1%). Further, attitudes condoning domestic violence are entrenched - when presented with a list of five reasons why a man might be justified in beating his wife, 43 percent of women agreed with at least one of the reasons.[36]

Although accurate figures as to prevalence are unavailable, rape and sexual violence is recognised as a widespread, serious problem in Nigeria. The US Department of State notes accounts of the mass rape of women university students, with refusal on the part of both police and university authorities to investigate, and the rape and sexual assault of women held in police custody.[37] Sexual harassment is considered to be widespread, and includes the practice of demanding sexual favours in return for employment or grades in university.[38]

Sexual violence has also emerged as a significant feature of the ongoing conflict in the Niger Delta, with reports of state security forces using rape as a tool to intimidate the local population and as a way of ‘revenging’ attacks by militants on oil installations.[39] 

Female genital mutilation (FGM) was prohibited in eleven Nigerian states as of 2008, but such laws are difficult to enforce.[40]  On a national scale, nearly 30 percent of women aged between 15 and 49 years have been subjected to it.[41]  The incidence of FGM differs considerably by region, and is twice as common in rural communities as in urban areas.[42]

The law does not specifically allow abortion in Nigeria, however in cases where the woman’s life or health was in danger, it has been carried out with no subsequent attempts to prosecute.[43]

Women and men have the right to use, and obtain information about, contraception, but according to the US Department of State, effective information and counselling on reproductive health is not widely available.[44]  No doubt reflecting this, contraceptive knowledge and prevalence rates among women vary widely across the nation. According to the 2008 DHS, only 67 percent of married women were familiar with a modern method of contraception; among sexually active unmarried women, the rate is over 94 percent.[45]  Correspondingly, prevalence rates are also lower; only 23.7 percent of married women had ever used a modern method, and just 9.4 percent reported current usage at the time of the survey; however current use among unmarried sexually active women was 42.4 percent.[46]  Among women who were not using contraceptive, more than 55 percent had no intention to ever use contraception; of these women, 40 percent reported outright opposition to its use, while another 16.5 percent wanted to have as many children as possible.[47]

[30] Section 357 and 358 of the Criminal Code in CEDAW (1997) p. 22; NGO Coalition (2008) p. 63; WAC (2008) p. 23 [31] US Department of State (2011) [32] CEDAW (2006) p. 101; WAC (2008) p. 22 [33] US Department of State (2011) [34] US Department of State (2011) [35] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 16.9 [36] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 15.6.1 [37] US Department of State (2011) [38] US Department of State (2011) [39] Arieff (2009) pp.5, 7, referencing Amnesty International (2006) [40] CEDAW (2008) pp. 37-38 [41] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 18.1 [42] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 18.1. Of the sample, 21,451 women in rural areas, or 25.6 percent, had experienced FGM, compared to 11,934 women in urban areas. This actually comprises a higher percentage of women in the sample, at 36.8 percent. [43] United Nations (2011) [44] US Department of State (2011) [45] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 5.1 [46] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Tables 5.3.1 and 5.4 [47] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Tables 15.5 and 5.1

Son Bias: 

According to data from the 2008 DHS, under-five mortality rates were higher for boys than for girls, as were rates of malnutrition.[48] There was virtually no discrepancy between vaccination rates for girls and boys under two, with just 23% of children receiving all their basic vaccinations.[49] This would not indicate any bias towards sons in regard to early childhood care.

Of those interviewed for the 2008 DHS, 30% of women aged 20-24 had received no education, compared to 13.7% of men in the same age bracket.[50] Secondary school completion rates for women in this age bracket were 27.4%, compared to 37.9% of men. This would indicate some preference towards to sons in regard to access to education.

The male/female sex ratio for the total population in 2012 is 1.01.[51] Analysis of sex ratio data across age groups shows elevated sex ratios amongst younger group, providing evidence that Nigeria is a country of concern in relation to missing women.

[48] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Tables 8.4, 11.1 [49] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Table 10.3 [50] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Tables 3.2.1 and 3.2.2 [51] Central Intelligence Agency (2012)

Restricted Resources and Entitlements: 

Nigerian women have very limited ownership rights. Civil law entitles women to have access to land, and a few states have enshrined equal inheritance rights into law, but certain customary laws stipulate that only men have the right to own land.[52]  For women without the means to purchase land on their own, in practice, their ability to obtain land flows solely through marriage or family.[53]  Data from the government indicates a significant gender gap in land ownership. For free use, women make up only 24% of land owners and for distributed land, women make up only 26% of owners.[54]

Under civil and Islamic law, married women have the right to have access to property other than land.[55]  However, JICA reports that for livestock, expensive cows or draught animals are more likely to belong to males rather than females.

In daily life in Nigeria, men generally make decisions regarding property. According to the 2008 DHS, nearly 62 percent of women reported that men make most or all of the decisions about major household purchases; 83.5 percent of men reported control over these decisions.[56]

Women’s access to bank loans is restricted by their limited financial resources and the difficulties they have obtaining the necessary guarantees. In certain cases, financial institutions demand prior consent of the woman’s husband before granting a loan.[57]  The National Poverty Eradication Programme and other micro-credit schemes offer low-interest, business-oriented loans and other micro-credit and vocational training programs for women, but access is still low;[58] statistics show that less than one-third of loans in Nigeria are awarded to women.[59]  Occasionally, women receiving loans have to turn control of the resources over to their husbands, which dilutes their effectiveness.[60]

[52] Section 43 of the Constitution of Nigeria in CEDAW (2003) pp. 49, 55 [53] NGO Coalition (2008) pp. 7, 51-52, 61-63; CEDAW (2003) pp. 52-53, 55; WAC (2008) p. 62-63 [54] JICA (2011) [55] CEDAW (1997) pp. 64-65; CEDAW (2003) pp. 49, 55 [56] NPC and ICF Macro (2009), Tables 15.4.1 and 15.4.2 [57] NGO Coalition (2008) p. 51 [58] CEDAW (2008b) pp. 50, 72, 77, 90-91; CEDAW (2003) p. 48 [59] CEDAW (2003) p. 49 [60] CEDAW (2008b) p. 93; CEDAW (2003) p. 49

Restricted Civil Liberties: 

Women’s freedom of movement is restricted in that in some cases they are obliged to obtain their husbands’ permission to obtain a passport or to travel outside the country.[61]  Women in purdah (in Muslim communities in northern areas) cannot leave their homes without permission from their husbands and must be accompanied by a man at all times when in public. Purdah also restricts women’s freedom of dress in that Muslim women must be veiled in public. Widows in these regions face the greatest degree of discrimination: they are confined to the home and must keep their heads shaven and wear mourning dress.[62]

Freedom of speech, assembly and association are protected in the Constitution, although journalists can sometimes experience harassment and threats from state security forces, particularly if they are reporting on issues such as corruption or ongoing conflict.[63] There is an active and vocal women’s movement in Nigeria, who provide practical support to women (such as shelters for victims of domestic violence, and credit schemes), as well as advocating women’s rights at the national level in regard to reproductive health, marriage, employment, and political participation, and pushing for changes to discriminatory legislation.[64]

Women and men have the same rights to vote and stand for election in Nigeria.[65] Women comprise a small percentage of elected officials in Nigeria. As of March 2010 (following the April 2007 elections), there are 25 women in the 358 House of Representatives and 9 Senators out of 109.[66]  Of 40 ministers and one cleared ministerial nominee for the current cabinet, 13 are women, showing progress in Nigerian women's campaigns for equal political participation.

Employed women in Nigeria are entitled to maternity leave for twelve weeks at the state level and up to four months at the national level, and during this time are entitled to receive 100 percent of their wages.[67]  However a number of discriminatory practices still exist in Nigeria in the private sector; many employers force young single and married women to sign job contracts stipulating that they will not get pregnant for the first three years of their employment.[68]

[61] WAC (2008b) p. 40 [62] US Department of State (2010); WAC (2008) p. 46; CEDAW (2003) p. 32, 49 [63] Freedom House (2010) [64] See CEDAW (2006) and US Department of State (2011) [65] CEDAW (2006) pp.60-61 [66] Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010) [67] Federal Republic of Nigeria: Public Service Rules, Revised to 1st January 2000, Section 03301; International Labour Organization (ILO) (2010) [68] CEDAW 2008b, p. 76


After gaining independence from Britain in 1960, Nigeria experienced many years of military rule, before a new constitution adopted in 1999 enabled a return to civilian, democratic rule.[1] The country is one of the world’s largest oil producers, however oil extraction and trade in stolen oil has fuelled ongoing corruption and violence in the Niger Delta (where the oil industry is based), as well as resulting in environmental degradation.[2]  Violent conflict along religious and ethnic lines elsewhere in the country has also been an ongoing feature of Nigerian society since independence, and continues to this day (there is a diversity of ethnic groups and northern Nigeria is predominantly Muslim, while southern Nigeria is predominantly Christian).[3] Nigeria is classed as a lower-middle income country by the World Bank.[4]

Nigeria has a National Gender Policy which focuses on women empowerment while also making a commitment to eliminate discriminatory practices which are harmful to women.[5]  Significant gender gaps in education, economic empowerment and political participation remain in Nigeria.[6]  While progress towards parity in primary school education has been made, there remains a significant wage and labour force participation gender gap.[7]  Discriminatory laws and practices, violence against women and gender stereotypes hinder greater progress towards gender equality. Nigeria has a particularly high maternal mortality rate and women access to quality health care is limited, particularly in rural areas.[8]

The 1999 Constitution of Nigeria prohibits discrimination on the grounds of gender, but customary and religious laws continue to restrict women’s rights.[9]  As Nigeria is a federal republic, each state has the authority to draft its own legislation. However, any law which is contradictory to Federal Law or the Constitution can be challenged in a Federal Court and cannot subsist. The combination of federation and a tripartite system of civil, customary and religious law makes it very difficult to harmonise legislation and remove discriminatory measures.[10]  Moreover, certain states in the north follow Islamic (Sharia) law, although not exclusively and only in instances where Muslims make use of Islamic courts.[11] Adherence to Islamic law reinforces customs that are unfavourable to women, including those relating to freedom of movement, and to marriage and inheritance. As of 2006, the Abolition of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in Nigeria and other Related Matters Bill’ was under consideration; it is unclear whether this has been promulgated into law.[12]  

Nigeria ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1985, and the Optional Protocol in 2004.[13] The country ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2005.[14]

[1] BBC (n.d.); CIA (2011) [2] BBC (n.d.); Arieff (2009) p.5 [3] BBC (n.d.); CIA (2011) [4] World Bank (n.d.) [5] JICA (2011) [6] World Economic Forum (2010) [7] World Economic Forum (2010) [8] CEDAW (2008a) [9] Section 42 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, promulgated 29 May 1999 in CEDAW (2006) pp. 13, 49 [10] CEDAW (2006) pp. 29-30 [11] US Department of State (2011) [12] CEDAW (2006) p.101 [13] United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2011) [14] African Union (2010)


African Union (2010) ‘List of countries which have signed, ratified/acceded to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa’ (as of 27 August 2010).

Arrieff, Alexis (2009) ‘Sexual Violence in African Conflicts’, Washington, D.C., Congressional Research Service.

Amnesty International (2006) ‘Rape—The Silent Weapon [Nigeria]’, London, Amnesty International.

BBC (n.d.) ‘Nigeria profile’, BBC News, (accessed 10 November 2011)

CIA (2011) World Factbook: Nigeria, Washington, DC: CIA, online edition,

Central Intelligence Agency (2012) The World Factbook: Sex Ratio, available at (accessed 9 March 2012)

Chronic Poverty Research Centre (2011) Widowhood and asset inheritance in sub-Saharan Africa: empirical evidence from 15 countries, available at (accessed 7 March 2012)

Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (1997), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Nigeria, Combined Second and Third Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/NGA/2-3, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2003), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Nigeria, Combined Fourth and Fifth Periodic Reports of States Parties, CEDAW/C/NGA/3-4, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2006), Consideration of Reports Submitted by States Parties Under Article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women: Nigeria, Sixth Periodic Report of States Parties, CEDAW/C/NGA/6, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2008a), Concluding observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women : Nigeria, CEDAW/C/NGA/CO/6, CEDAW, New York, NY.

CEDAW (2008b) Responses to the list of issues and questions with regard to the consideration of the sixth periodic report Nigeria, CEDAW/C/NGA/Q/6/Add.1, CEDAW, New York

Freedom House (2010) Freedom in the World Country Reports: Nigeria, online edition, (accessed 10 November 2011)

International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009), Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws, ILO, Geneva, Switzerland (accessed 9 April 2010)

Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) (2010), Women in Parliament: All Countries on National Parliaments, IPU: Geneva,

JICA (2011) Country Gender Profile Nigeria Final Report, available at (accessed 19 March 2012)

National Population Commission [Nigeria] (NPC) and ICF Macro (2009), Nigeria Demographic and Health Survey 2008, NPS and ICF Macro: Abuja, Nigeria.

Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition (2008), The Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition Shadow Report, Nigeria CEDAW NGO Coalition.

Struensee, V. von (2005), “The Contribution of Polygamy to Women’s Oppression and Impoverishment: An Argument for its Prohibition”, Murdoch University Electronic Journal of Law, Murdoch,

United Nations Development Programme (2011) Human Development Report 2011, available at (accessed 29 February 2012)

United Nations (UN) (2004), World Fertility Report 2003, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, NY.

United Nations (2011) ‘World Abortion Policies 2011’, UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York.

United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) (2011): Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women, countries ratified. 

-          CEDAW: (accessed 10 November 2011)

-          Optional Protocol: (accessed 10 November 2011)

US Department of State (2010), 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC.

US Department of State (2011), 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Nigeria, US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Washington, DC, (accessed 10 November 2011)

Women’s Aid Collective for Nigeria NGO Coalition on Shadow Report (WACOL) (2008), CEDAW and Accountability to Gender Equality in Nigeria: A Shadow Report, WACOL: Lagos, Nigeria.

World Bank (n.d.) ‘Data: Nigeria’, Washington, D.C., World Bank, (accessed 10 November 2011)

World Economic Forum (2011) The Global Gender Gap Report 2011, available at (accessed 2 March 2012)


Discrim. Fam. Code Rank 2012: 
Discrim. Fam. Code Value 2012: 
Legal Age of Marriage: 
Early Marriage: 
Parental Authority: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Rank 2012: 
Rest. Phys. Integrity Value 2012: 
Violence Against Women (laws): 
Female Genital Mutilation: 
Reproductive Integrity: 
Attitudes Towards Domestic Violence: 
Prevalance Of Domestic Violence: 
Son Bias Rank 2012: 
Son Bias Value 2012: 
Missing Women: 
Fertility Preferences: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Rank 2012: 
Rest. Resources & Ent. Value 2012: 
Access To Land: 
Access To Property Other Than Land: 
Access To Bank Loans And Credit: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Rank 2012: 
Rest. Civil Liberties Value 2012: 
Access To Public Space: 
Political Participation: 
Political Quotas: